The biblical character Jabez, whose plea to God provided inspiration for Multnomah's The Prayer of Jabez, asks Jehovah to "enlarge my territory." By all accounts, the pocket-sized book by Bruce Wilkinson has done the same thing for the small evangelical house, whose 2001 revenues tripled the company's previous financial high-water mark in 2000. Published in May 2000, the book has sold 9.2 million copies in 17 languages and rode the #1 spot on the New York Times's Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous bestseller list for 24 weeks.
"We heard rumblings very quickly after the book came out that it was going to do better than anybody had ever imagined," Kyle Cummings, senior v-p and CFO of Multnomah, told PW. "This was a book projected to sell about 30,000 units. In its initial month, it sold 15,000 to 20,000. But it was really in October and November  that the momentum took off. It didn't stop."
After an initial print run of 26,000 copies, Multnomah quickly cranked out another 46,000 copies, then upped the ante with 384,000 copies by November 2000. Nervous that it might be gambling on a passing fad, the company finally rolled out 1.1 million copies in February 2001 and another two million in March. At press time, Jabez was in its 41st printing.
The financial windfall has done more than put Multnomah on the publishing map. Located in four buildings scattered across tiny Sisters, Ore., the company plans to invest in its infrastructure, Cummings said, including a projected new facility within the next 18 months. The publisher's distributor, GLS Distributors of Cincinnati, increased warehouse space allocated to Jabez from 30,000 to 40,000 square feet to accommodate the product's rapid sell-through rate. In addition, Multnomah increased staff by 19, adding personnel to editorial, sales and marketing as well as appointing a brand director to coordinate the Wilkinson line.
"It became very apparent that we needed to concentrate as a company on the Wilkinson brand and needed one person directing the charge from here," said Steve Shepherd, director of marketing. That person was Bill Mintiens, who told PW there's "no question" that Jabez and its follow-up title, Secrets of the Vine, have opened up doors previously closed to Multnomah.
"Once the public at large got hold of the book, the larger [general-market] bookstores and chains saw this was a real media phenomenon," Mintiens said. "When you walk into any store, whether a CBA, ABA or chain bookstore, you continue to see collections of Wilkinson product, and they're devoting space to it." That bookseller-publisher relationship, and Multnomah's related co-op expenditures, have increased "significantly," Mintiens said.
The Jabez success has also helped Multnomah attract new authors, including Joe Gibbs, whose Racing to Win will be released this spring with a $200,000 marketing budget. Other new authors include Dr. Tony Evans. The company plans to keep its annual book output to about 100 titles, but is planning to do more in the gift book market.
The Jabez engine has also opened a pipeline of spinoff product that shows no sign of abating. In addition to Secrets of the Vine, which boasts over three million copies in print since its April 2001 release, consumers can find Prayer of Jabez study Bibles, devotionals, journals, Bible study guides, teen editions, themed music CDs, audiocassettes and teaching videos. This fall, the as-yet-untitled book number three in Wilkinson's Breakthrough series will be released. Licensee Tommy Nelson, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has produced four titles in the Prayer of Jabez for Kids series, and two Secrets of the Vine for Kids books are due out this spring, followed by another two titles in the summer. The Prayer of Jabez for Women, penned by Wilkinson's wife, Darlene, went on sale March 11. By early February, Multnomah had written orders for more than 410,000 copies of the book. In addition, Wilkinson is relocating to Los Angeles to spearhead a creative team already in the preproduction stages of a feature film of Jabez to be shot in southern Africa.
Like any publisher of a runaway bestseller, Multnomah has authorized a spate of official merchandise, including Jabez backpacks, key rings, greeting cards, Christmas ornaments, candles, mouse pads, lapel pins, bookmarks, mugs and even framed art.
Reflecting on the whirlwind pace of Multnomah's recent history, senior v-p Cummings said, "The year 2001 was exhilarating. We hit on a hot one it's that simple. As a company, we want to stay true to our calling. We don't want to get away from the path, from what God might have in store for us." Nonetheless, he admitted, "There's not a budget item within editorial, production, administration and marketing/sales that has not been impacted by The Prayer of Jabez."